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IBM Unveils its ‘System of Systems’

It’s supposed to the fastest, most powerful, scalable, power-efficient mainframe ever

zEnterprise it is then.

That's the name of the new hybridized cross-platform IBM mainframe system that arrived like we said it would on Thursday to be described as the most significant change in the mainframe platform in 20 years.

It's supposed to the fastest, most powerful, scalable, power-efficient mainframe ever, capable of managing 100,000 virtualized servers as a single system.

And, like we said, that single virtualized system can be the box core zEnterprise 196 mainframe and ancillary Power7 and System x servers sharing resources complements of IBM's newfangled zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension and Unified Resource Manager, which reduces hypervisors (except the z/VM) to firmware.

IBM says it took four years, the input of 30 customers, the work of 5,000 Big Blue employees, and upwards of $1.5 billion to achieve this converged architecture, which is suppose to bestow the blessings of mainframe security, reliability, governance and manageability on Power7 and x86 workloads.

IBM claims that means it can lower x86 and Power acquisition costs by 40% and reduce TCO by 55%.

Compared to the existing z10 mainframe, the zEnterprise 196 is supposed to be 60% more performant, use 90% less energy and floor space, and have 60% more capacity.

Naturally IBM touts the thing as a private cloud maker. A single zEnterprise System is supposed to be good for a trillion instructions a second.

IBM hasn't priced the thing yet because deliveries won't start until September and it doesn't want to jinx the sales of any older model widgetry that might move between now and then.

HP calculates that IBM's mainframe sales - excluding software or services - are down 25% in the last two years. In the last quarter results that IBM just released the other day IBM said z Series sales were down 24% year-over-year against an easy compare.

BusinessWeek figures the new mainframe will start at around a million dollars and could have a profit margin of ~70% versus 46% for the company as a whole. Forbes puts its upper end at $40 million, and that's excluding the blade servers.

Sanford Bernstein says the mainframe contributes over 20% of IBM's revenues and 40% of its profits all things considered: hardware, storage, software, services, financing.

That's why the old dinosaurs are so important to IBM and why it's willing to court the wrath of the regulators to keep competitors at bay. Happily for IBM Citi wants to replace its flotilla of 50 mainframes with the new system in the next 12-18 months.

The Unified Resource Manager and the BladeCenter Extension that supports Power7 blades running AIX won't be available until Q4 and the x86 widgetry for running Linux won't be out until the first half of next year. But just because IBM doesn't have prices, or the blades for that matter, doesn't mean it can't say that a single virtualized Linux-on-System z server can be created and deployed for less than a dollar a day or that it could cost 74% less to run Oracle workloads on the zEnterprise 196 than x86 systems.

You can practically hear it calculating the erosion it thinks it might do to HP x86 and Unix sales by sucking up islands of infrastructure. Might make up some for IBM's own drooping x86 and Unix sales.

The new mainframe is supposed to support 114 blades each with eight cores and given its exclusionary practices it's hard to see these blades ever being anything but IBM blades or the zEnterprise interoperating with, say, HP or Oracle or Cisco or Dell blades unless the regulators think differently.

Its rivals can only hope IBM has just walked into the spinning props of a regulatory helicopter that seem to say "foreclosing an adjacent market," "adjacent market," "adjacent market" over and over again. IBM's usual defense in such situations is to maintain that mainframes aren't a market unto themselves, which seems to make about as much sense as Bill Gates telling that first congressional committee Microsoft hasn't a monopoly. Maybe zEnterprise is supposed to make the distinction less clear.

Anyway, the 196 mainframe contains 96 5.2GHz 45nm processors capable of executing more than 50 billion instructions a second, and up to 3TB of memory. The chips are supposed to improve the performance of data-intensive and Java workloads by up to 60% and improved software performance can reduce software license costs.

The new mainframe is supposed to offer 60% more capacity than its predecessor, the System z10, but still use about the same amount of electricity. There's also a water-cooling option available that can reduce energy use by up to 12%.

The z196 can handle 80 zAAP, zIIP IFL specialty processors for running Java, DB2 and Linux on the mainframe.

There's a whole lot of new software that goes with the new machine like an accelerator for analytic workloads running on the BladeCenter Extension using DB2 data on the z196 as well as new Tivoli widgetry, a new Rational Developer and new Lotus productivity software to run on the Linux side of the equation. It's also promising maybe 40% improvement in traditional z/OS workloads and an additional 30% improvement in CPU-intensive workloads via compiler enhancements.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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